Knights drastically improved

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

There is no big secret in putting together the formula to get a team to a hockey championship.

You need skill, good team composition, chemistry and everything to go your way.

Last season, the London Knights started out 0-4 when everything was tallied.

They didn't have anywhere near the skill they needed and when it came to team composition they had too many holes that needed filling.

Team chemistry? There was nowhere near the chemistry that had driven them to the kind of success they had in the previous three or four seasons.

As for having everything go right for them, that flew out the window the first month when they figured neither Sam Gagner nor Pat Kane would be coming back from their NHL teams.

The good news in what was a mediocre season for the franchise is that they were better at the end of the year than they were at the beginning.

General manager Mark Hunter began rebuilding the team in the second half of the year and continued through the summer. Getting players like Nazem Kadri, Phil Varone and Steven Tarasuk from Kitchener was the first step.

Their bags of loot were able to help them again. They were able to bring top prospects like John Carlson and Jared Knight into the fold.

The money that comes with full houses at the John Labatt Centre helps the Knights with that.

While playing in the Ontario Hockey League holds an attraction to these players because of the length of the season and the similarity to pro hockey, it doesn't hurt that the Hunters can offer significant compensation numbers in the form of education packages to the players as a fall-back should hockey not work out for them.

On paper, this team is much better than the team that began play last season.

With that, we extend the much-trumpeted warning that games aren't played on paper.

The first person to say it's all a crapshoot is Hunter. He uses his hockey knowledge to evaluate and project a player's potential. How much he develops is out of Hunter's hands.

A month of the regular season is needed before a true evaluation of the Knights is realistic.

Offensively they'll be better. They should be stronger defensively.

The most glaring question mark though is goaltending. Jason Guy and Michael Zador have to play well. If they don't and Hunter can't come up with a better option, the Knights are last night's road kill.

Hunter knows that. He also knows that if you are willing to pay a price, there are options out there.

But Guy has always had great potential and goaltenders are notorious for taking longer to develop. Guy is an overage player. The Knights are going to ride the pair of them until they see what kind of ride they'll give them.

One other issue is size.

Two years ago, the Knights had a quick, highly skilled team. By the time they got deep into the playoffs, Kane, Gagner and Sergei Kostitsyn wore out.

This year's team is a great deal like that team. They are tough on the puck, but not the biggest players in the world -- especially on the forward line.

Varone and Daniel Erlich are poster boys for the tough tots in the Knights' lineup. They'll give their last drop of blood to win a puck, but over the course of a full season, that takes a toll.

They could use some help.

It would be much easier for the Knights if Akim Aliu came back from the Chicago Blackhawks' training camp with his head in the right place.

Aliu can be a monster, in a good way, when he wants to be. He has size, speed and strength to dominate.

But like the Knights, you're going to have to wait a while to see exactly what you are going to get.


Videos

Photos